Tea is one of the most consumed beverages in the world and for good reason, as there are many health benefits associated with it and it is good for the body. Oolong tea is similar to the always popular green tea, however it has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to health benefits.
In this article I want to discuss what oolong tea is, why it is healthy, and one reason why it should be drank with caution.
What Is Oolong Tea?
Oolong, like both green and black tea, originates from the camellia sinensis plant. The difference between these teas lies in how they’re processed. Oolong is fermented and allowed to partially oxidize, while green tea is not. Black tea is fully fermented and oxidized, which gives it the characteristic black color.
Oolong Tea vs Green Tea
Green tea contains more catechins and anti-inflammatory polyphenols compared to oolong tea. Oolong however typically contains less fluoride than green tea. Both green and oolong tea contain a similar amount of caffeine at around 25mg per cup for green tea, and about 37mg for oolong. The caffeine content of these teas are still significantly less than coffee, which ranges from 95-200mg per cup. With that being said, it may seem like green tea is the clear winner here, however oolong has its own unique benefits.
Health Benefits of Oolong Tea
Oolong tea has a variety of benefits, and some of them have been well-studied.
Oolong Tea for Gut Health
Most people know to reach for a probiotic when it comes to gut health, but oolong tea may also benefit the gut microbiome. One study found that those who drank oolong tea had a more diverse gut flora. Generations of conventional farming and food consumption have brought certain healthy bacteria to extinction in modern society. Oolong tea may help to re-diversify the modern microbiome for improved overall health.
Heart Benefits of Oolong Tea
A study amongst 76,000 Japanese adults found that those who drank 8oz or more of oolong every day had a 61% lower risk of heart disease. Oolong also helps to improve blood pressure levels and to reduce the risk of stroke. Drinking large amounts of oolong can be counterproductive to heart health though, since it does contain some caffeine.
Stronger Bones with Oolong Tea
One study looked at 680 elderly Japanese women to see if oolong could help strengthen bones. Researchers found that the women who drank oolong tea had greater bone density in the bones that connect the leg to the hip socket. Since hip fractures are so common among the elderly, oolong tea can be a good addition to a healthy lifestyle for stronger bones.
Oolong Tea for Weight Loss
Green tea is often the go-to for weight loss because of its high antioxidant content, but oolong has its place too. The polyphenols that are highest in oolong tea activate thermogenesis in the body to increase fat burning. When compared to 2 cups of green tea, those who drank the same amount of oolong burned over 157% more fat and up to 134 calories. For this reason, Oolong is recommended in several popular weight loss programs.
Better Blood Sugar
Multiple studies have looked at the benefits of oolong tea on blood sugar levels and diabetics. The results are mixed with some studies showing remarkable improvement, while others show none at all. Diabetics and pre-diabetics who are not overweight or who are in the process of losing weight seem to benefit the most from drinking oolong tea. This shows that while oolong tea can help to prevent and manage diabetes by improving blood glucose metabolism, it works along with a healthy diet and positive lifestyle changes.
Oolong is very high in anti-inflammatory polyphenols. These polyphenols are anti-oxidants that scavenge disease and cancer causing free radicals in the body. Research conducted at the University of California showed a 50% reduction in free radicals after participants drank oolong for 15 days. For those with cancer, there’s some evidence to suggest that oolong can slow the formation of cancerous cells.
Chill out with Oolong Tea
The same polyphenols that help with cancer also help to give a feeling of calm. Many people report stress reduction within three hours of drinking this tea. A study by the academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that those who drank 4 cups of oolong every day for a week had significantly less stress.
Build a Better Brain
A study evaluated over 700 elderly Chinese people and those who drank oolong, green, or black tea scored better on tests for brain function. They also looked at coffee, which didn’t show any brain boosting benefits. This may suggest that it’s the anti-oxidants found in tea, not caffeine that improves memory and brain performance.
Cautions with Oolong Tea
Oolong does have plenty of health benefits, and a good amount of research to back up its impressive claims. There are of course a few downsides to this beverage. It does contain some caffeine, so anyone who is trying to avoid caffeine should proceed with caution.
Fluoride in Oolong Tea
Tea that’s derived from the camellia sinensis plant, which includes oolong, accumulates fluorine. Even though this element is naturally occurring, it can be just as harmful to health as synthetic fluoride. The amount of fluorine in tea depends on several factors. Oolong tea that is fermented instead of withered has less fluorine, and fluorine content also varies by soil and growing region. High quality organic teas contain significantly less fluorine than cheaply produced teas.
Who Should NOT Drink Oolong Tea?
Since oolong, like green tea, does contain some fluoride, it can be counterproductive for those with certain thyroid conditions. Oolong also contains moderate amounts of caffeine which can be harmful during pregnancy. Young children may not respond well to the caffeine either. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, so ideally oolong should not be consumed in excess.
How to Brew Oolong Tea
Oolong varies greatly in brewing time since different brands process the tea leaves differently. Some oolong is greener, while others are darker and more oxidized. Growing conditions and location play a role in taste and even the size of the leaves can vary.
According to the Kitchn, if the oolong leaves are rolled into balls, 1 tsp of leaves should be used for every 6 oz of water. However if the oolong is loose leaf (like this one), up to 2 tablespoons per cup can be used. Since the strength of the tea depends on how the leaves are processed, steeping times will vary slightly.
Oolong that is greener is closer in taste to a green tea and may taste best with a 3 minute brewing time, while the darkest oolongs work better with a 5 minute brewing time. It ultimately depends on taste preference and the brand used.
What I Drink
I personally don’t drink Oolong very often because of the potential negative thyroid effects. I usually choose organic coffee and herbal teas instead, though I do sometimes drink a high quality organic Oolong tea (this one). Oolong has many well-studied benefits, and most people do great with it in moderation.